Halloween is big on my street. As in, multiple yards with skeletons towering high as the trees. A garage haunted house that has been in the works since July. Tables in every driveway come Halloween night, piled high with everything from candy to cupcakes to Jell-O shots.
My kids are excited (not about the Jell-O shots specifically), and I can’t blame them. But we’re also in the middle of the High Holidays, and I want them to be excited about that, too.
“Mommy! Can we put up our decorations?” my 4-year-old asked on October 1, having spent the previous half hour sitting on the sidewalk in a Hulk costume watching our neighbors transform their yard into The Zombie Zone (per the bloody banner over their driveway).
“Soon!” I told Levi. “But we’re so lucky — we get to celebrate Sukkot first!”
I couldn’t see his face behind the Hulk mask, so I will choose to believe this answer satisfied him.
I have so many memories of Halloweens past — neighborhood costume parades, basement candy swaps with my sisters, trick or treating for the last time with my high school girlfriends — but Sukkot? No recall whatsoever.
Growing up, being Jewish was always important to my family, but we never did much by way of observance. Kind of an eat-brisket-and-call-it-a-holiday situation. Until I had kids in Jewish preschool, I think the last time I was in a sukkah was when I was in Jewish preschool.
But, it turns out, Sukkot is so much fun! A few years ago, we were invited (through the preschool, of course) to a Sukkah Hop in a neighborhood adjacent to the local Chabad, where nearly every other yard had a sukkah in it — perhaps the first time I’d seen one outside of a synagogue parking lot.
The families hung out, chatting and noshing and serving treats from their respective huts, decorated with paper chains and twinkling lights and dangling bunches of grapes. Some had air conditioning. One had a chandelier!
My kids shook the lulav and etrog and ate their weight in cookies and Israeli candy bars, and I left asking on repeat, “Why don’t mainstream American Jews celebrate Sukkot?!”
That may not be an actual fact, but it’s true in my experience, and it strikes me as such a missed opportunity. Why pass up a chance to hang out outside in nice weather eating delicious food with family and friends? Why pass up another chance to celebrate being Jewish?
This year, we don’t plan to. We have acquired a sukkah! Now we just have to figure out how to put it together. Then we’ll blast some Maccabeats and decorate it. We’ll eat our meals in it and invite family and friends to join. We’ll have a week I hope my kids will remember as fondly as I remember dressing up and trick or treating and convincing my younger sister that a Smarties for an Airhead is a fair trade.
It’s not about competing with Halloween, or even downplaying Halloween. I just don’t want the Jewish holidays to feel secondary to the ones that dominate the aisles of Target and the seasonal Disney+ lineups. We are candy-eating, “Hocus Pocus”-watching Americans. And we’re Jews.
So on October 31, I’ll be right there with my kids, sneaking tiny bags of Swedish Fish out of their plastic pumpkins and into the pockets of my Rosie the Riveter overalls.
Before that, we’ll build our sukkah. Less bloody than The Zombie Zone (I hope), but I’m optimistic Levi will watch with as much interest. He’ll definitely be wearing his Hulk costume.